Minister Virkkunen says government standing firm on municipal reform
With less than a week to go before it is scheduled to put forward proposals for new legislation on local government, the Finnish national government is still holding intense negotiations on the reforms. Minister for Public Administration and Local Government Henna Virkkunen (Nat. Coalition Party) denies that the government would be scaling back its goals, or backing away from possible forced mergers of struggling municipalities.
“We have not backed down or given up on anything, because negotiations still continue”, Virkkunen said to Helsingin Sanomat on Wednesday.
A sticking point in the talks is the staunchly negative stance of the second main government party, the Social Democrats, toward forcibly linking local authorities with each other.
Instead of coerced municipal mergers, Virkkunen is talking about “the jurisdiction of the government if municipal councils do not come up with a solution”. Virkkunen says that the National Coalition Party feels that while resorting to such methods would be undesirable, it might be used as a last resort to join local authorities together.
“It would be specifically to secure services if no other solutions can be found. Services are the most important issue for us”, Virkkunen says.
The government is running out of time if it wants to keep to its schedule. Discussions today, Thursday, involve the ministerial working group of administration and regional development. The group is chaired by Virkkunen.
“We are currently holding discussions on what options exist – what decisions need to be made [by the government] if municipal councils are unable to make adequate decisions. The policy lines are not ready yet”, Virkkunen said.
The government wants to complete work on its policy objectives on Tuesday morning. On Wednesday it hopes to inform Parliament about it. An intense debate is expected.
“The aim is to get a draft for a municipal structure law ready in the autumn, and to get statements from local authorities on the matter sometime after the summer break. It is a big package”, Virkkunen said.
The law would define the conditions under which small or poor local authorities would be expected to draw up a report on forming a single unit. The reports would be drawn up by the municipalities themselves, or by an official appointed by the state.
A further complication in the matter that a working group of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is expected to draw up an interim report on the structure of social and health care services. The deadline for the report is today, Thursday. However, on Wednesday the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health said that the work was not yet complete.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Two municipalities merge with Lohja to form massive new city west of Helsinki (10.11.2011)
Centre Party angered at proposed municipal reform (5.9.2011)
Municipal reform: forced mergers remain a possibility (25.5.2012)
Leaked map reveals plans to reduce number of municipalities to about 70 (16.1.2012)